Toronto to St John’s

I was meant to leave Toronto on the 11th to head to St John’s, but after having a wonderful lunch with Donna Dudinsky after the Storytent last Saturday and finding out that the Racontuers (a storyslam in Toronto) meeting was also on the 11th I changed my flight and attended.

It was a very interesting evening, as only a couple of days before I had been sat in Dan Yashinsky’s garden talking about youth storytelling and how he percieved that a lot more talented young people were interested in storytelling in the UK than in Canada. But when I entered the wonderfully named ‘No One Writes To The Colonel’ 460 College St, what a feast beheld my eyes.

Racontuers Story Slam

Racontuers Story Slam @ No One Writes To The Colonel

The bar was packed, every available seat was taken, people gathered huddle in any space they could get, it was amazing to see just how many people had turned out on a hot summer evening to cram themselves into the wonderfully record bespotted performance space. And even more amazing was that the vast majority were 20-40yr olds, with the occassional older folk peppered amoungst the crowd.

As the evening began and the stories started it proved to be such a range, and dynamic of tellers. The theme this month was ‘Music’ and before each teller told the MC announced their name and their favourite song, which already gave an idea of the person we were about to see. Coming from the UK my ear is not atuned so much to the personal stories which seem to heavily fill repetoires in Canada and the US, and it should be noted that Racontuers only accepts personal stories, so I did not enter as a teller, for I have had no experince with playing with personal tales. Some tellers told of seeing their favourite band live, some told of how they developed their first crush on the favourite popstar, some told of their own personal connection to music through playing, and just like everything to do with music there was also a touch or sex, drugs and rock and roll!

Tellers told in blocks of three with a break inbetween each block, where tellers were greeted by eager audience members to congratulate them on their telling. All tellers told through a mic and even the quiet ones could be heard by all. Some tellers were newbies and other were old hats, but all were welcomed by a very story hungry audience.

At this point I must admit I was more fasinated by the dynamic in the room than the stories, not that they weren’t good, but like I say I’m not use to personal tales and at times for me it felt a bit like watching stand-up comedy without the punch lines. I didn’t not enjoy it, and I don’t mean to sound like a story snob, because believe me anything that can generate the amount of people in a room for storytelling I’m all for, its just I found it hard to recognise it as storytelling that I am familiar with for it is such a different style. But I have been told that is also how it feels in reverse, many people who have only had personal tales find it hard to listen to what they determine over here as ‘folk tales’ (which back home refers to a certain genre of stories, rather than a generic term for any fictional tale). This in itself is an interesting insight into the trip, does this mean to be more appealing to more people, we as a storytelling community in the UK have to look to this, or is it just a cultural difference. Having spoken a lot to Csenge Zalka at the NSN conference about this (Csenge is from Hungary, which also has a long history of ‘folk’ tales) we both, having worked with youth in our own countries have seen how ‘folk’ tales are still popular, and so at this stage my belief is that it is more of a cultural thing, but that we must be aware that personal tales are a great way of giving a voice to young people who can often feel like no one is listening.

But net result is that far from being devoid of youth talent, Toronto has a wealth of youth talent bubbling away, but it might need a to be sort out in a new fashion.

And then before I knew it, and far too soon I was on a flight to St John’s, and flying into the airport I saw hilltops and coast line which could have been mistaken for Scotland, and colourful houses which would look at home in Balormory. The place is awash with Irish accents, and I have finally found out why East Killbride in Scotland doesn’t have just a Killbride, cos its here in Canada, so East Killbride is VERY east!

I arrived at the hostel at 6pm dropped my bags headed into town (finding within mins a chocolate shop… my true chocoholic nature is far from the surface) grabbed some food and found Hava Java, the venue for tonight’s Storytelling circle, and finally met at long last Dale Jarvis, which was a strange first meeting as I many an email has gone back and forth, and so many people have talked to me about him it really didn’t feel like a first meeting. What an evening of diverse stories, and international tellers, besides myself there were tellers from Spain, Wales, Ireland and then plenty of local talent. After which Dale and his partner took me up to Signal hill to look down over St John’s at night, a beautiful sight… a good way to end the day.

Friday the 13th was – and that is all that can be said, roll on the radio interview at 9am local time Saturday 14th, but I shall leave with that view…

Over looking St John's at night

Over looking St John's at night

 

Bravo Toronto

The CN tower in Toronto

Bravo Toronto

So much to catch up on, because it has been a crazy busy week.

So after the course not running I went up to Ottawa to visit the story circle there I travelled by Greyhound (a 5hr journey where I read ‘A Monster Calls’ which Shonaleigh Cumbers recommended, and whilst it was an amazing book it resulted in me crying for the last hour of the journey… I got a few funny looks) and was met off the bus by Caitlyn Paxson of the Ottawa Storytellers. We went for dinner and met up with Ruthanne Edward, both of whom were a mind of information about what was happening in youth storytelling in Ottawa and I was most impressed with the different activities, such as the story slams which Ruthanne set up. We then went to the Story Circle where such wonderful tales were told and shared. Ottawa was such a warm bunch of people and Gail Anglin was a delightful hostess with story conversation into the night and first thing in the morning. Definitely worth a repeat visit.

The next day I found myself back on the bus back to Toronto to arrive in time to attend the 1001 nights in Toronto, which was a diverse blend ofstories, ages and cultures and the stories reflected that. I met a number of people who use storytelling in schools. Saturday was an early start to the StoryTent in St Clare West, and its was a lovely day where I told a number of stories and met more storytellers we even had time to have a huge conversation about youth projects around the world, my pen had a hard time keeping up. Since then I have been invited back to that site everyday for different projects, which included a group for differently abled folks and a womens group where I got feed and given a lovely massage after I finished telling. They were really keen for me to come back again, but it is time for me to start thinking about the next town and the next adventure. Although it is with a heavy heart and much resistance I will leave Toronto, I would quite happily stay for good!

Thanks again for reading and many thanks to Storytelling Toronto and Ottawa Storytellers for being so generous and welcoming.

Toronto is great, but their driving is nuts!

 

 

Internet Killed the Backpacker!!!

So I went from the thronging conference held in the swanky Marriott Hotel in Cincinnati to the back street backpackers hostel in Toronto, it was always goign to be a change, but having been a keen and well travelled backpacker in the past I was prepared, or at least I thought I was.

It wasn’t the best of starts, the plane was delayed in Cincinnati due to bad weather, and I mean BAD, don’t believe check the news about Ohio! It was beautiful arriving into Toronto on the tail end of Canada Day, as I flew over the city all the fireworks were going off – stunning and at the same time disconcerting have things fly up and explode as you are descending. Just for good measure the bus was late and when I arrived into the room expecting even at this late hour backpackers still to be up due to the celebrations, everyone was asleep!

So I slept missing all my new found friends from the conference, and Monday I got on with my day (which consisted of finding Godiva’s chocolate shop – a girl has her priorities! – and getting my Canadian phone up and running) I get back to the hostel thinking I should spend a little time catching up on blogging and emails, to find the hostel slient once more, people were awake, but all plugged into their laptops. I remember when hostels were bursting with stories, but sadly this is no longer the case, rather than going out and exploring the many wonders of Toronto they sit watching episodes of tv shows or films… I was at a lost as to what technology has cost us.

So OK, I am right here being one of them, I do get the irony about complaining about everyone plugged into the internet while being plugged into the internet – but I am after all on a working trip, and part of that is to report what I find.

However I will be spending sometime away from the computer over the next few days as plans have had to change somewhat. The course I came to Toronto to work on and review was cancelled due to lack of bookings, which is the first time in 30years it hasn’t run – typical! So rather than sit around I am heading up to Ottawa to visit the story circle there, and dash back to Toronto for their story circle Friday night and story tent on Saturday morning where I will be meeting Dan Yashinsky.

But I have not been bummping around waiting for the bus to leave, I met up with Marylyn Peringer who was going to be running the course to find out what would of happen. From what she told me it was going to start quite literturcey (bear in mind I’m dyslexic) based, and build over 4 days to develop a traditional tale for telling. Marylyn took for dinner and dancing bear foot in the ‘Winston Churchill Park – he is most definitely keeping tabs on how my trip is going, Cheers Sir Winston!

International Hide and Seek with Sir Winston… I see you!

No good looking the other way Sir C, the sign gave it away!

And just to prove story is in every fibre of my being, while I was out on the street a Greenpeace canvaser stopped me with the words ‘hey let me tell you a story’ so I stopped and he did, it was great, so being the kind of person who thinks a gift should be met with one in return especailly when it comes to stories, I told him an ancient Roman tell of enviromentalism and consumerism. So happy was he I have been invited to come tell at one of their meetings :)

Ooh and an opportunity has come my way which is mind blowing!!!! But right now its a secret, I might even give a prize if you can guess :)

Stories will travel, and be our passport to places we would usually get too.

And rememebr if you are out there reading this, let me know, it is never lonely or quiet on the road with stories in your heart, but it is nice to know there are others out there.

Much love y’all!

I went to Cincy and found Me!

The National Storytelling Network Conference is over, but my head and heart are full. I have met over the past week so many wonderful, beautiful, giving, brilliant, talented, inspired and inspiring people whom I hope I will meet again many times over as I wander the story path. It was a life changing experience (what with temperatures of 100, and tornado warnings) enhancing my concepts, career and calorie intake.
After the pre-conference on Wednesday the pace picked up and the storytellers arrived en-masse, around about 300 or so.

The Master-class on Thursday afternoon with Jane Stenson and Sherry Norfolk, was not only delightful but incredibly insightful, 5 hrs walking us through creating a storytelling classroom from pre-school to secondary school, (or Kindergarten to High school). I loved the new term I picked up in this class ‘Teaching Artist’ which is one it would be great to see used more in the UK because it recognises the artist who works heavily in school as an educator, and of value to the teaching system. The workshop looked at the differences between what the points of view of what the teacher wishes to achieve and what the artist wants and can provide because Jane Stenson was actually a teacher, and Sherry Norfolk comes much more from the performance side. What surprised me but should have been obvious was how similar the issues facing the ‘Teaching Artist’ is between both the UK and US, however due to recognition of the importance of the library system (some which is not so evident in the UK with so many libraries either already closed or under threat of closing) many of the folks I have met are either teachers or librarians or have served as such at one point which then brought them to storytelling. An amazing session which will sit with me for a long time.

After a delightful dinner with Csenge where we discovered we are actually just the same person cloned (watch out world, yes there are two of us, and we’re coming after you bringing our flaming red-haired story revolution!!!!) the opening ceremony began, and the main conference hall filled with storytellers some new some old, but all were recognised and welcomed, during this I met Rachel Hedman, who told me the ‘New Voices’ would be meeting for breakfast the next day, this was to be a gathering of young storytellers, so of course I pounced on the idea. I rounded the evening off with Mary Hamilton’s Fringe show ‘Around the world with Cinderella’ a delightful blending of 11 Cinderella stories and a Norwegian version with a cinderFella.

Friday was a bleary eyed early start to meet the New Voices which incorporates young tellers right up to 35yrs old, but I am so glad I did because as well as meeting around 8 young storytellers, there in the middle of them all was Judy Sima who co-wrote the ‘Raising Voices’ book, a bible for anyone working in the field of youth storytelling. I was so excited to be sat there, just knowing that moments like these are what this trip is all about. Once the group had got their breakfast, very kindly paid for by Judy (many thanks Judy) we all started sharing our stories of what brought us to storytelling, what our hopes and dreams are for the future and our futures in storytelling and the challenges facing young storytellers – which as it turned out is a universal issue of; where do we find the platforms to tell, who do we balance storytelling with school work, getting through exams, going to college/uni, finding jobs, love life, starting families, how do we afford conferences and make time for them, how do we convince established older storytellers that we have voices of value to. It was also really interesting to hear about the way youth storytelling is in America through the eyes of the youth, this was an opportunity I hadn’t expected at the conference.
The rest of Friday was spent going to workshops and panels and a walk up the road to a Korean restaurant for lunch in 100 degree heat. I rounded the day off at a story swap and told my tale of the little tree that wished, which went down really well, and as I left that low and behold but who should have just arrived at the conference but Kevin Cordi, who greeted me with a huge hug (those barrage of emails prior to my trip had worked!!!) and even though by this time it was 11pm we talked for hours until we realised the rest of the lobby was empty and it was 2.30am, I already knew at this point a few days of caught moments during the conference was not going to be enough to capture even a brief snippet of the knowledge and experience Kevin was willing to share, and the support he was willing to give. Return trips and future conversations have already been planned.

The rest of the conference flew by in workshops and panels, one by Judy Sima going through the application of some of the exercises in the book ‘Raising Voices’ and a panel on Mentoring, I gave up Friday lunch period to interview Judy and Kevin, which gave fourth some really interesting material and two very different perspectives on youth storytelling, there are many others I wished I’d had time to interview and so I will be email and skyping to catch up with them either en-route or once I get back to the UK.

It became evident during the conference that 6 weeks is such a small amount of time to achieve all that I hope and it is merely the start of the dialogue rather the whole conversation.
It was interesting to compare the similarities between the NSN and the SFS (Society for Storytelling – UK), and the issues facing youth tellers, and those working in the field of youth storytelling. It was also interesting to note the differences, which for me was that sometimes the conversations, workshops and panels were not focused on stories, but on the relationship the tellers had with certain stories – however I was told by many that this is not the norm and was perhaps due the theme of this year’s conference being about remembrance. I also saw how much more organised things were with early starts (8.30 starts would be unheard in a UK story conference) and late nights, folders and handouts at nearly every workshops, PowerPoint presentations, it was much more lecture style than practical which is what I have grown use to in the UK where content can be flexible depending on the needs and wants of the group.

Kevin Cordi asked on the storytellers Facebook page for those who went to the conference to take some time to reflect and asked themselves; ‘Select one to three things that you learned, questioned, or taught and decide how to use it in your life.’
I learnt that as many better opportunities there are for youth tellers in the US there are also similar challenges to what we face in the UK. Trying to define what ‘youth’ means, where does it start and where does it end? How to approach it – do we ask what they think they need, to give them what we think they need? How do we make opportunities for all despite abilities, locations or skill level? How do we make opportunities to attend conference, what workshops would benefit young tellers?
I have learnt I have many more questions than what I started with!
I question the idea that folktales can be copyrighted as some have been with us for thousands of years, and although a version may have been written down in a modern book, research on the internet get other books and you will find many more versions, which you can blend into your own original work, for isn’t that what storytellers do? Traditional/folk tales have so much teaching in them, they have been crafted over millennia to give teachings and make us question, isn’t losing that denying those that come after us part of their heritage, not just of being from this place or that place, of this people or that people, but of being human and part of this world?
I will use the experience to keep my mind open and remember to (as much as possible) pass it forward, to make sure I leave something those who travel the path behind me.

And lastly I would like to make a role call for all those who made the weekend amazing: Csenge Zalka, Kevin Cordi, Kevin Gerzevitz, Karen Chace, Judy Sima, Jane Crouse, Sherry Norfolk, Jane Stenson, Lyn Ford, Lois, Katie, Rachel Hedman, Holly Robinson, Adam Booth, Beth Horner, Judith Heineman, Elise Krakower, Renee, Heather, Gail Froyen, Sara Armstrong, Noa Baum, Buck Creacy, Brother Wolf, Jim May, Kevin Kling, Rick Huddle, Yvonne Healy, Alton Chung, Michel, Bill Harley, and Marilyn McPhie to name just a few.

NSN Pre-conference

Storytellers started to drifted into the hotel as from Tuesday, The first I met was Jane Crouse, whom I had breakfast with, and not only did we share story chit-chat but discovered we were both huge fans of Robin of Sherwood, breakfast was a long and laughter filled event.

Throughout the rest of Tuesday (aside from a little shopping and tourist trip) Jane introduced me to a number of other storytellers including Sherry Norfolk, writer of many books (along with Jane Stenson) on the subject of storytelling in the classroom. The three of us went for dinner and I have been finding out that there are far more similarities between US and UK storytelling especially in the realms of trying to get funding and convincing schools and youth centres to take on stoyrtelling.

Wednesday was the YES/SHE (Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance/ Storytelling is Higher Education) Workshop, both Susan O’Halloran, and Karen Chace spoke at it, but Karen’s afternoon session was by far the most relavant to the work we are trying to create in the UK, it focused on the substainable storytelling projects she has worked on in schools, one of which has been running for ten years, and that not only performs to the school, but has a yearly festival. She also has a great website to explore, especially the Teachers Porch, and writes an amazing blog. It is thanks to Karne I am at this conference in the first place as she recommended I came to the YES/SHE workshop, so thanks Karen!!!

I also managed to finally catch up with Csenge Zalka in person, which was lovely after the months of emails going back and fourth, and I am really pleased we did.

I have had such a warm welcome (the temperture is up in the 100s) from all the storytellers here it has been fabulous, If the first day of this conference is anything to go by I can see I will be coming away from Cincinnati armed to the teeth with information!!!

 

And so it has begun!

41hrs awake, 17hrs travelling, and finally I make it to Cincinnati, the first stop on my whrilwind tour through America and Canada thanks to the Winston Churchill travelling fellowship. I am here to find out as much as possible about the way America and Canada support, mentor and fund youth storytelling, and to meet other storytellers and share, even create some stories on the way.

And it started well because on the plane to America I was sat next to a lovely lady from Chicago, called Maria, who advised me to start Chocolate and Story event evenings, a bit like the old cheese and wine thing, I think its a great idea, so totally starting that when I get back!

Got to say there is nothing better after a long journey to find the hotel is beautiful,

The foyer of the Hotel

The foyer of the Hotel

and the bath tub lovingly waiting for you!

view of Cincinnati from across the ohio river

View from my hotel window.

So after a long soak and find that it was still early in the afternoon I went for a walk around the local area, and found within a five minute walk from the hotel the ‘Children Inc’ a performing arts centre supporting children and the home of Daniel Carter Beard,

Statue of Daniel Beard

A Statue of Daniel outside his old home.

who was a youth leader and set up the boy scout movement in America… Plaque about DanielSo I think that bodes well for my trip, not here more than a few hours and already stumble upon supporting youth projects!

Now off to do some more exploraing before all the storytellers turn up later and work begins.

The Counterdown is on!

So just recently has been busy, busy, busy for Red Phoenix Storytelling, 10 days straight of storytelling for the Jubilee, at festivals, museums, garden centres, woodlands, and a wonderful workshop with the guys at HALOW where during a story and music workshop a very ‘Doors’-esq 20 mins musical interlude came about.

‘Its the (final) count down’ for the trip to America and Canada, I have 9 days left till ‘I’m leaving on a jet plane’. I have the lugage (thanks to the very helpful lady in Debenhams, Portsmouth, who after finding out the nature of my trip being a scholarship gave me a further 5% discount on a case already discounted by 65%), I have the cuddly toy – Anansi the Spider (soc) Monkey (recruited by Luke),

Anansi the Spider (soc) Monkey

Anansi the Spider (soc) Monkey

and moments of excitement intersected with wobbly knees. Unfortunately the CD won’t be going due to a major hard drive failure, however I always have a cunning plan, which hopefully will be unveiled at the NSN Conference in Cincinnati (a storytelling conference and my first stop). I also had an interesting message last week from Ottawa Storytellers, so I looking at squeezing in yet another stop, I can’t believe how well the trip has all come together, Thank you world!

Thats a wrap!

Well two days of recording and I have laid down 11 tracks, not all will make the album but it is good to have a choice. So once the editing is complete and I have ok’d the artwork the CD will be ready to go.

It was so strange telling stories without an audience to a small piece on metal and wires, it was also really hard to concentrate on not allowing my dynamic range (how loud and quite I spoke) to get carried away, I am so used to telling to large crowds, outside and over coming other noises that I have developed a very powerful voice (read as I got a big mouth). So yesterday was a struggle as I got used to studio work. However today went really well, (mostly chocolate fuelled – yes I know chocolate is bad for the vocal cords, but its great for the energy levels after having telling for hours of it was most needed) I got the stories in one take and they will only need a small amount of editing (to remove giggling and hiccups).

I have to say I was quite nervous and actually ended up really enjoying it, I hope Steve who patiently recorded hours on end of stories, enjoyed it too, even if over the course of weekend I spooked him out, made him laugh and even moved him to tears, all of which bodes well I think for finished album. Looking forward to holding the finished product in my hands.